History of Social Capital and Health

M. Kamrul Islam notes the criticisms of the present state of social capital research as: the difficulty of measuring the elements of social capital, thus the need to find better ways to measure it, also, to better address its effect in communities overall. But perhaps most important is the need to find and measure ways to increase it.

History of Social Capital
Aerial view of crowd connected by lines. Credit: Orbon Alija

Social capital, in the contemporary sense includes four main theoretical ingredients: social trust/reciprocity, collective efficacy, participation in voluntary organizations, and social integration for mutual benefit (Lochner et al, 1999). It is seen to provide both material benefits, such as higher wages and improved productivity, as well as non-material benefits, such as improved quality of personal relationships and health (Glaeser et al, 2002). These possibilities were identified in research over the recent 30 years. Yet historians find an implicit sense of social capital it in works from prior periods, for example in the works of Durkheim (1987) and also in Marx’s Das Capital (1885). Emile Durkheim studied suicide and identified social experience and social capital as antidotes to self-destruction (Portes, 1998). Marx (1985) theorized that individual fractions of social capital would, through metamorphisis, grow to community levels. Adam Smith (1996/1759) in his famous book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, described social capital, but he warned of possible negative consequences (Knack, 2002). From Marshall’s definition of “external scale economies” emerged a picture of localized economic vibrancy (Cohen and Field, 1999). The above theorists generally described the concept in the context of market equilibrium. In sharp contrast, Thorsten Veblen (1934) proposed a disequilibrium version moved by an evolutionary system.

Who First Stated the Term “Social Capital” in its Contemporary Sense?

Woolcock and Nararayan (2000) identified the person as Lyda J. Hanifan, as did Robert Putnam (2000), described him as the first a major contributor to the contemporary definition and called this an excellent finding. Hanifan was not a cloistered theoretician but a practical reformer of the Progressive Era, who worked as state supervisor of rural schools in West Virginia. Both Woolcock (1998) and Putnam (1995) also identified Jane Jacobs (1961) as the first to use the term “social capital” in the contemporary sense. Glenn Loury (1977) was first to introduce the idea into modern social science research, when he described the lower level of development of small businesses in Black communities as resulting from a lower level of social connections and exchanges.

Conclusions

Professor Islam notes the criticisms of the present state of social capital research as: the difficulty of measuring the elements of social capital, thus the need to find better ways to measure it, also, to better address its effect in communities overall. But perhaps most important is the need to find and measure ways to increase it. Complete references are provided in the chapter (Ch 3).

M. Kamrul Islam is a Senior Researcher at the Uni Research Rokken Center and the Department of Economics at the Bergen University, Bergen, Norway. 


Elgar Companion to Social Capital and Health edited by Sherman Folland and Eric Nauenberg is out now.

Read chapter one free on Elgaronline

Also on ElgarBlog:

Social Capital and Economic Growth by Soumyananda Dinda. Read Soumyananda Dinda’s chapter Social capital and economic growth

Social Capital in Epidemiology by Martin Lindström. Read Martin Lindström’s chapter Social capital in epidemiology

Why Trust is Good for your Health by Martin Ljunge. Read Martin Ljunge’s chapter Trust promotes health: addressing reverse causality by studying children of immigrants 

The Importance of being Social –Sherman Folland investigates the influential role social capital plays in mental health and physical wellbeing.

Religious Capital, Social Capital and Health Ephraim Shapiro and Chen Sharony explore the link between religion and health

Does Health Affect Social Capital Hope Corman, Kelly Noonan, and Nancy E. Reichman examine the relationship between health and social capital.

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